Even though Loyola came up short of the state tournament, Zach Holecek said he’s happy how his senior season turned out.
More importantly, he’s proud of the way he’s leaving the program.
The Ramblers ended their season Saturday with a 13-5 loss to New Trier in the sectional final at Glenbrook North. Loyola advanced one more round than it did a year ago.
One of six seniors and three captains — along with seniors Quinn Carr and Cole Morgan — Holecek was the most experienced varsity player coming into the season. He took it upon himself to be a leader in the pool, he said. That meant even more with Carr missing the entire season, and Morgan ruled out for the final half of it with concussion-like symptoms.
“I definitely classify this season as a success,” said Holecek, who earned a spot on the all-MCAC second team. “We exceeded our expectations, especially playing without Quinn and then without Cole for a lot of season.”
On Saturday, Loyola (19-12-2) led 1-0 and kept it close for the first quarter before the top-seeded Trevians, who feature three Division I players, separated themselves in the second to go into the half ahead 8-2.
“We played great right out of the gate,” Loyola head coach Dan Hengelmann said. “We looked amazing. The second quarter was tough, and we didn’t get a couple of breaks to go our way. The hole then became too deep.”
Junior John Merucci, a first team all-MCAC selection, paced the offense with three goals. He finished the season with a team-high 99 goals.
Holecek said Merucci was a talent he wanted to help cultivate this season. Junior Tony Spallone, a second team all-league pick, and junior Charlie Freedman were two others. Freedman was second on the team in goals with 38, while Spallone was third with 35.
“I wanted to be somebody who made the others play up to their abilities, to get them to believe in themselves,” said Holecek, the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 32 goals. “We knew if we did that, we could hang with the best teams in the state.”
The Ramblers did that.
One of the team’s best games of the season, according to Hengelmann, was Loyola’s 11-8 loss to No. 5-ranked Fenwick in the title game of the MCAC tournament on May 6. Nine of the Ramblers’ 12 losses came to teams ranked in the top five of illpolo.com’s latest poll.
“Losing two starters to injury, one for the season, and having a freshman goalie, it took a lot for these guys to come together and play at a high level,” Hengelmann said. “They could have folded up and quit at any point, but they didn’t.”
The team’s other seniors included Nathaniel Guenther, Danny McGowan and Daniel Vargas. Guenther and McGowan played significant roles in the second half of the season, according to Hengelmann.
“Nathaniel found his way into the starting lineup and ended up playing big minutes for us,” Hengelmann said. “He was a do-it-all guy for us.”
Hengelmann said the returning Ramblers are “chomping at the bit” to play water polo this summer, eager to get back to the state tournament for the first time since Loyola won it in 2014.
“We are aware of what we have, which is a lot of firepower returning,” Hengelmann said. “We see an opportunity for us next year to be better.”
That is what Holecek wants to hear.
“It’s cool to see what us seniors are leaving behind,” he said. “It means something to us to be consistently good in our conference and in the state.”
Pictured above (from left to right): Cole Morgan, Nathaniel Guenther, Quinn Carr, Zach Holecek, Daniel Vargas, Danny McGowan